Tuesday, 23 January 2007

South Shields Interlude

Further delay in the completion of the Grey's Monument painting.

I have a meeting with my Figure 8 group on Wednesday. We need to decide on a proposal for our promised show in South Shields, and to do so by the end of January. All we have at the moment is an instruction from the Curator that the show should "concern South Tyneside."

The main administrative centre and largest town in South Tyneside is South Shields. Other riverside towns are Jarrow and Hebburn, while the villages of Cleadon, Whitburn and The Boldons border Wearside to the south at Sunderland. As an area, all rather disparate, and without any clear modern identity. Mostly a history of ship-building at Jarrow and Hebburn, coal-mining in the other parts. "History" being the operative word.

Frank the Dripper has found some poetry by Jarrow's Venerable Bede which he thinks will give him something to work on. Mo hasn't decided yet and The Vicar is still in New Zealand. I thought I should make an effort to resolve my own approach.

So I went to South Shields yesterday on the Metro. Took me about half an hour, trundling through urban blight and colourful but unoriginal graffiti.

Following on from last year's Great North Run pictures, I'd been thinking about using the town's three-day's-a-week market as subject matter, but by the time I got there, much of it had been taken down. I did get a couple of photos of a man still selling from his fruit stall, even though he suggested that I'd be better occupied buying a pound of bananas at a knock-down price.

There was a bitter wind blowing through the streets of South Shields and I always feel nervous when seagulls swoop low overhead, but I wandered down to the river to take a look at the area round the gallery. Apart from a man who always seems to hang about there with several layers of ragged clothes and two shopping bags, it was pretty much deserted. I took a couple of photographs of the row of pubs and Seamen's Mission buildings, but the sun had gone and my fingers were getting too numb to operate the camera effectively.

Back into town for a look around. It's years since I've taken a close look at Shields. My family used to come here for the beach when I was a kid, but that was more years ago than I care to remember.

It's a curious place, with a really long main street crossed by the Metro line on a bridge overhead. As the sun went down, I began to take photographs as aides-memoires for future research trips. I think there could be potential in this street and some of the others round about, if I can catch them on a good, sunny day.

What I don't want to end up with is a set of paintings which are only of interest to Sandancers (the dialect and people of South Shields). They'll have to be interesting, first and foremost, as paintings, not as topographical records. I think I can do that.

Coming back on the Metro, I found myself in a Concert Party. There was an old fella with a harmonica who'd evidently spent the afternoon slaking a not-inconsiderable thirst, and a couple of his greybeard mates who insisted he strike up the band while they sang along. I was treated to Pack up your troubles (how come they don't even know the second line?), The Rose of Tralee, Lily of Laguna, and a particularly cheesy version of Blue Spanish Eyes. And Many More Old Favourites. And on quite a few of them, the man with the harp got most of the tune right.

Ee, Club Men. Salt of the Earth. So they always tell me.

No comments: